BADA Newsletter February 2016
British American Drama Academy Newsletter
"Those who wish to sing always find a song."
It may be that when all is said and done, BADA's core mission is nothing more or less than to help a student find his or her unique song and sing it. If so, it's the youngest of BADA's students, those teens on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, whose song is in its purest and most raw form, ready for support, open to being shaped. Guided by the principle that the song forms the singer as much as the singer the song, the Midsummer Conservatory Program has had as its aim, since 2002, the creation of a safe and fertile environment in which any student age sixteen to eighteen interested in exploring the parameters of creative expression can do so in a theatrical context. The MCP's new Dean, Patrick Ardagh-Walter, and faculty member, Eunice Roberts, took a moment recently to share with David Byron the beliefs that inform their work on what the students themselves affectionately refer to as the "Baby BADA Program." That work takes a variety of forms in a variety of settings, but its objective is always and finally the same: to enable the youngest of the BADA family to find their voices and sing their songs.
Though you've been teaching on the Midsummer Conservatory Program for some time, this past summer was your first as Dean. How did it go? Are there any highlights you remember with special fondness?
So many to choose from! We had a wonderful MCP which, as always, was because of the input from everyone involved. Our program manager, Christina Ibironke, is amazing, the staff at Wadham are friendly and helpful, we have a wonderful teaching faculty and the students were great fun and poured everything into their work. It was easy for me to enjoy.
I guess our punting expedition on the Cherwell was the longest stretch of laughter, and Othello at the RSC in Stratford was superb: but it’s always the students’ superb work on Open Day that moves me most, as I’ve watched them develop throughout the program.
Do you envision taking the MCP in any new directions in the next few years?
|Midsummer Conservatory Program Dean Patrick Ardagh-Walter|
It’s more about evolution than revolution! There is the process of listening carefully to feedback, during and after the program, analyzing it and discussing it. We’ve already had a couple of meetings, talking about what we can learn as we plan forwards. Each year we’ll seize every opportunity for improvement, and to draw on the experience of students and insights of teachers to keep MCP ahead of the field as the best program of its kind.
Just now I’m thinking about Shakespearean music-making as an addition to the informal activities, and we’re looking at ways we can make the private tutorials even more useful for students. The teaching faculty also work together to ensure their classes will complement and support one another, and this is a great way of stimulating creativity and new ideas.
You teach Voice, as well as Alexander Technique. What is Alexander?
It’s a taught skill, a very popular tool in theater and the performing arts. We learn how to quieten our habitual physical and mental reactions - to become a clearer lens, if you like, with less physical tension or mental ‘chatter’. We learn to place our attention where we choose, rather than to chase it, and to bring presence and power to our physicality on stage.
What effect do you see it having on the students?
The big revelation for a student comes partly from their own experience of improvement and partly from the positive feedback they get from their fellow students. I love to see physical and vocal authority emerging from these young actors, along with new freedom and emotional authenticity, but it’s their new friends who will convince them of how good they are.
If an MCP student doesn't elect to pursue further studies in the theater arts are there ways in which his/her experiences at Wadham may be of value in a life outside of the theater?
That’s an important question, thank you! Yes, in more areas of life than they might imagine.
It’s a very broad program that draws out and nurtures a whole range of life-skills. One key value is teamwork, and I think the students surprise themselves with the power of what they can achieve as they watch, listen and communicate within their group.
I really enjoyed watching some of the classes through last year’s program. The teachers draw out the students’ self-awareness, authenticity, physical and verbal fluency. Students find themselves in situations which give them freedom to be creative and funny. In almost every area of life this will be a huge asset. Learning to be assured and communicative, to have personal presence, to listen and observe well, to gain fluidity and physical balance, these are precious things.
Add to that the ability to adapt to new situations, to solve problems as a group with new acquaintances, to accept teaching and to improve in front of your peers, and it becomes clear that MCP will give its students advantages in almost any field of human activity. For some students, learning it’s good to have fun is important, too.
Some of the students have never been outside their home country before. How do you, the faculty, and staff help them become acculturated to Oxford and England?
In some ways the program genuinely is a ‘deep end’ experience, and a very exciting one. Being a student living in an Oxford college, dining in hall, punting on the river – these are very English things. But we help students through their encounters with laundry, voltage differences and exchange rates, while sensitive and confidential pastoral support is always available when needed.
We start the program with a guided tour of Oxford to give everyone their bearings. The days are quite structured, we have a good mix of group visits and free time on the days in Stratford and London, so students should never feel out of their depth.
If you were to meet with a young student with an interest in theater and acting who is considering applying to the MCP, but daunted by the seeming enormity of the venture (a foreign country! Oxford! Shakespeare! oh dear!), how would you allay that student's fears?
Everyone on the program is in the same boat! It’s one of the benefits of a program abroad – none of the students will be on home territory. That’s actually liberating and makes for a very inclusive group experience.
Deep friendships are formed at the MCP and we love to hear back from our extended family of former students, who also sometimes visit us. MCP students always come from a wide range of cultural and educational backgrounds, so you’ll never be an ‘odd-one-out’, and every individual’s insight, enthusiasm and curiosity is a valued contribution.
You've taught at BADA since 2006, in the London Theater Program, the Shakespeare Program, and the Midsummer Conservatory Program, so you really are embedded in the institution by now, aren't you?
Yes. I've taught at other places, as well, but I know where my heart lies.
All the faculty I've spoken with say the same thing! What do you put that down to?
It really does feel like a family at BADA. And I think a lot has to do with the office space in Camden because we don't just have a little, separate staff room where we go to make a cup of tea and wouldn't really see anyone. Everybody's passing through. It's a feeling of being together. And Ian and Carolyn are wonderful figureheads at the center of it all.
|Sir Patrick Stewart, Eunice Roberts, and John Andrews, President of the Shakespeare Guilde of America. At the 40th Anniversary of Actors from the London Stage, Sir Patrick and Eunice accepted an award on behalf of founder Prof. Homer 'Murph' Swander from the Shakespeare Guilde of America for 'Extraordary Contribution to Our Understanding and Presentation of Classics by Shakespeare and Other Dramatists.' Photo © Matt Humphrey|
What do you teach?
Well, I've taught Modern Drama on the MCP, but at the moment I teach Shakespeare on the MCP as well as High Comedy on the London Theater Program. On the MCP, my focus is on looking at Shakespeare through the text, while David Kenworthy does it much more from character and setting up scenarios and placing the characters in those scenarios. In a way his approach is more improvisational, but we produce the end-of-term showings together, so we're always saying to students that one of our approaches isn't exclusive to the other; don't think you have to choose either David or me. That's why we like, at the end of the three weeks, doing the final presentation together because it proves to the students that the two approaches work in tandem.
Overall, the thing to stress, especially when working with the youngest students, is that they don't have to think they're going to be actors in order to come on the course. In fact, many of them are not going to become actors. The MCP is for anyone who has an interest in Shakespeare and standing up and wanting to have a go. You don't have to have any acting experience.
Do you think there's a benefit to high school-age students of doing a drama program if they never pursue studies or a life in the theater?
Oh, yes, because it's all about communication and interpretation and imagination. And just having a growing confidence in yourself as a place in the world, and being able to communicate with others and live with others you don't know.
Did you train at a drama school yourself? And can you tell me a bit about your acting career?
I trained at Bristol Old Vic Theater School and my work as an actress has tended to be mainly in theater. I seem to suit period roles. I love a corset!
I think that's the first time I've ever heard that from an actress!
Well, if you have one made for you they're actually very comfortable. You have to breathe properly as you're putting it on. You have to sit into your corset.
These are pearls of wisdom which a student who hasn't studied with you might miss out on!
Well, doing High Comedy we always do have a moment of being in corsets, but it tends to take up a lot of class time at the beginning, as the boys are strapping the girls in and hilarity is happening....
If your approach to the Shakespeare class is primarily text-based, is that also true of your High Comedy class?
Yes, we look at the form and from the form we get how a person speaks. High Comedy starts with Restoration and those are very complex sentences and phrases because these people in the main have only got the language with which to express themselves. I usually say from the beginning, "You will find this frustrating, you'll think you can't do it, but don't let that frustration be a block; see it as a wonderful challenge to work through. And I promise you, you will overcome this block." And they always love it by the end. It's the verbal pyrotechnics of doing High Comedy, it's at an Olympic level, and once they get that and don't hammer it home it's wonderful.
Of course, we don't just do Restoration, we also do Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and even a bit of Joe Orton at the end. Because with comedy, the baton is handed on. I really do see acting as a craft that is passed on and through generations -- not just acting, but directing, writing. Any good writer knows what's gone on before, so if the students do a Restoration and then a Wilde or Coward, moving on to a more contemporary one, they begin to see how they reflect off each other.
Do you find that teaching feeds your own acting work?
Absolutely. Sometimes I think, "Why on earth don't I pay attention to what I'm saying in class?" There was a part I did a few years ago and I really thought, "Now you've got to start doing as you say and not just say it!" [laughs] And the students will sometimes say something that's so refreshing and you'll think, "Yes, of course!"
Can you tell me about your work with Actors From the London Stage?
I'm an Associate Director and I've toured the States with the group seven times. The organization is forty years old this year. It was originally a sort of off-shoot of the RSC. Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Tony Church, Bernie Lloyd, Lisa Harrow, and David Suchet were all early members. We have two tours that go out every year, in the spring and in the fall, and five actors go round the university and college circuit and put on a Shakespeare play. It's also done with no director. We stay there for a whole week as a residency and we do up to three shows. We also go into the classroom. In fact, in a week, there can be up to fifty sessions with the five actors in classes right across campus: English, Theater, History, Business, Law, Engineering, etc.
Right now they're doing A Midsummer Night's Dream.
I can't imagine how you do the Dream with five actors!
Well, I did it once and ended up playing Titania, Hermia, Snug, Philostrate and Starveling. And in Twelfth Night I played Viola and Sebastian, including the end, when they find each other. And I played Hermione and Perdita when they also find each other. When you have those moments it's magical.
And can you tell me also about your work with the Norton online edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare?
It's really Actors From the London stage again. Norton, publishing this year and next, have brought out a new edition of the Complete Works and I'm the producer of the embedded recorded tie-in. We recorded 69 scenes from 23 plays with 25 actors. It will be out in its entirety by the beginning of next year. You can buy a hard copy and get the link or just the online edition and hear the scenes being performed. And also you get the history of the plays, history of production -- there's an awful lot of information. So a lot of schools will be buying this and teachers will be using it as a teaching tool.
[Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard professor and General Editor of The Norton Shakespeare: "When the Norton Shakespeare cast about for a theatre company with the intelligence and versatility required to make digital recordings that ranged over the whole of the Shakespeare canon, we hit upon Actors from the London Stage. We could not have made a better choice: this immensely gifted troupe has the power to bring to vivid life anything to which it turns its attention."]
You certainly have your fingers in a lot of pies. What's next on the horizon?
I shall be featuring in theater history, really! I'm going into The Mousetrap, the longest running play in the world. I play Mrs. Boyle, an older lady and a real tyrant, a kind of Lady Bracknell. But what's really wonderful is that I'll still be able to do all my teaching.
In the best BADA tradition!
Phillipa Soo, one of the stars of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton is a BADA alum! Phillipa attended MCP in the summer of 2007. Phillipa plays Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander. She won the 2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for the production at the Public Theatre last year.
BADA's Midsummer Conservatory Program is designed for serious sixteen to eighteen year old students of theatre and concentrates on three approaches to acting Shakespeare: text-based preparation, characterization and movement.
The program’s principal objective is to assist students in developing their skills as classical Shakespearean actors so that they are better able to meet the challenges of college, conservatory or drama school.
In 2016, The Midsummer Conservatory Program will take place from July 23rd to August 13th.
Recent Midsummer Conservatory Program Alumni have gone on to attend colleges such as:
Applications for Summer 2016
Midsummer Conservatory Program and Midsummer in Oxford Program are now open! Be sure to complete your application by the March 1st deadline!
We're planning Spring 2016 alumni gatherings in:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- Washington, DC
Keep an eye out for information and dates in the coming weeks!
Thanks to the generous contributions of alumni, friends, and supporters, AFBADA reached its 2015 fundraising goal and will be able to increase the amount of scholarship funding it provides to students attending BADA programs in 2016. Our most sincere thanks to everyone who donated last year!!
BADA is excited to announce that eleven distinguished theatre artists have been named Associate Artists of the British American Drama Academy. They are:
Sir Derek Jacobi CBE, Patron of BADA
John Barton CBE
Brian Cox CBE
Julian Glover CBE
Fiona Shaw CBE
Deborah Warner CBE
To learn more about our Associate Artists, please visit the new page on our website.
Recent Events: BADA Sonnet Slams!
|On October 15th, BADA alums, friends, and supporters got together for the first-ever BADA Sonnet Slam in Los Angeles. The festive evening of sonnets, scenes, and a song raised funds for scholarships to support students attending BADA’s programs. Click here to see the full album!||On November 9th, BADA supporters and alumni gathered for the BADA Sonnet Slam in New York City. The evening of songs, sonnets, and scenes raised funds for scholarships to support students attending BADA’s programs and included special performances of songs by Melissa Errico (MIO ’91), Joel Perez (LTP ’96) of Broadway’s Fun Home, and Brandon Victor Dixon (MIO ’98) of the upcoming Shuffle Along. Click here to see the full album!|
Alums: Melissa Errico (MIO ’91) performed her new, autobiographical cabaret show Sing the Silence at Joe’s Pub in New York City. Demetrius Grosse (MIO ’02) & Paul Giamatti (MIO ’89) were both featured in the box office hit Straight Outta Compton. Jerod Haynes (MIO ’12) won a Joseph Jefferson award for his performance as Bigger in Native Son at Court Theatre in Chicago. Lily Holleman (MIO ’97) starred in South Coast Rep’s production of Beth Henley’s Abundance. Zoe Kazan (MIO ’02) was one of the stars of the film Our Brand is Crisis. Oliver Platt (MIO ’86) is starring in the new series Chicago Med on NBC. Blake Robinson (MIO ’86) directed the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Mad River Rising. Justin Theroux (BCP ’91) stars in the second season of the HBO series The Leftovers. Max Thomas (MIO ’13) starred in the world premiere of Carla Stillwell’s Lawd, the CVS is Burning, produced by MPAACT in Chicago.
Faculty & Instructors: David Harewood is appearing in the new tv series Supergirl. John Heffernan played the title role in Macbeth at the Young Vic in London. Kelly Hunter's new book Cracking Shakespeare was published, Peter Francis James is appearing in the new superhero tv series DC's Legends of Tomorrow.
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